CARA Study: Majority of U.S. Clergy Dislike the New Roman Missal

According to a landmark national study released today, Catholic clergy and lay parish leaders in the United Stated for the most part do not like the new Roman Missal which was introduced in November 2011. The study was commissioned by the Godfrey Diekmann, OSB Center for Patristics and Liturgical Studies of Saint John’s School of Theology•Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota, and carried out by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.

According to the CARA study, clergy reject the missal by a 52/42 margin. The largest group of clergy (41%) say that “before it was introduced I was apprehensive about it and I still don’t like it,” with a further 11% saying that “before it was introduced I was looking forward to it but I’ve changed my mind and don’t like it.” Only 27% say that “before it was introduced I was looking forward to it and I still like it.” When clergy and lay leaders are taken together, the missal is rejected by a 49/45 margin.

Among the other findings of the study:

  • 58% of clergy disagree (35% strongly) that they like the more formal style of language in the new text.
  • Only 39% of clergy think the new missal is an improvement on the previous translation. 58% disagree, 32% strongly, that it is an improvement.
  • 76% of clergy agree, 50% strongly, that some of the language of the new text is awkward and distracting.
  • A majority of clergy think that the new translation urgently needs to be revised – 54% agree with this, 37% agreeing strongly, whereas 41% do not think it urgently needs to be revised.
  • Clergy do not think other rites (marriage, confirmation, divine office) should be translated in a similar style, by a margin of 57/41.

The study reveals some disturbing trends about the trust Catholic clergy place in Church leadership.

  • Asked whether they are confident that the views of priests will be taken seriously in future decision about liturgical translation, nearly 2/3 (63%) are not confident that they will be heard. The largest group of clergy, 33%, disagree strongly that their views will be taken seriously. Only 23% of clergy think that priests’ views will be taken seriously, of which only 7% strongly agree with this sentiment.
  • Half of all clergy (50%) say they do not approve of the leadership of the Holy See in Rome in bringing about the new missal, with 44% supporting the Holy See.

When priests and lay parish leaders are taken together, the margin of support for the new missal is a bit higher than the views of just clergy. But this larger group of clergy and lay leaders together still rejects the formal language of the missal by a 55/41 margin, thinks that some of the language is awkward and distracting (75/24), disagrees that the new missal is an improvement (55/40), and thinks that the new translation urgently needs to be revised (50/42).

This new study by CARA largely corroborates the results of a less scientific study carried out by the Diekmann Center and released in May, 2013. That study invited all priests in 32 participating U.S. diocese to state their views on the new missal. That studied showed that 59% of priests do not like the new missal, compared to 39% who do. Priests rejected the more formal language by a 57/36 margin, and 80% agreed that some of the missal’s language is awkward and distracting. 61% said that the new translation urgently needs to be revised, and 61% did not think other rites and sacraments should be translated in the same style as the new missal. In the earlier study 55% disagreed that priests’ views on translation would be taken seriously, and 49% did not approve of the Holy See’s leadership in bringing about the new missal.

At the time of the earlier study, Bishop Robert Brom, now retired bishop of San Diego, said that “the new missal needs corrective surgery and this should take place without delay. The views of priests must be taken into consideration.”

The Roman Missal retranslation was made necessary by the controversial 2001 Roman document Liturgiam authenticam which has been stronglyy criticized by leading liturgical scholars. A widely-aclaimed earlier revision, carried out from 1981 to 1998 and approved by all the bishops’ conferences of the English-speaking world, was discarded by the Holy See with the issuance of the 2001 translation directives. Pray Tell has reported extensively on the long and difficult path toward the 2011 Roman Missal

Fr. Anthony Cutcher, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, sees the newly-released CARA study as an opportunity to work constructively toward a revision of the current text which clergy and lay leaders dislike. He said,

 Our response turns from condemnation to constructive criticism… Armed with the latest data, we can take this opportunity to help craft a revision that stays true to the text and at the same time is accessible to all.

An essay on the new missal by Fr. Cutcher will be published tomorrow at Pray Tell.

Cutcher’s remarks echo those of former U.S. bishops’ conference president Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who recently conceded that the new text has “flaws and difficulties” and is “inadequate” and “needs correction.”

Pray Tell moderator Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB, who was involved in the development of the new missal but then withdrew support for it in an open letter to the U.S. Bishops, recently expressed hope that the Catholic Church could move beyond past difficulties:

Have we turned the corner on this missal thing? Are we ready to build up the church with a constructive discussion of its strengths and weaknesses?

Fr. Anthony has written an editorial on the way forward with the missal.

Here is the full CARA report, which analyzes the responses of clergy and lay parish leaders taken together: “Attitudes of Clergy and Lay Leaders toward the New Translation of the Roman Missal: Findings from CARA’s National Survey of Catholic Parishes.” The responses of just clergy to the CARA survey are found here.

This CARA study was carried out by the Diekmann Center with the generous support of the following organizations: The National Federation of Priests’ Councils (NFPC), The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP), The Church Music Association of America (CMAA),  The National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), Oregon Catholic Press (OCP), Liturgical Press, and several anonymous individuals.



  1. “These then are the feasts of Passover.” That’s the best example to my mind of a mangled translation, from the Exsultet. Previously it was “This is our Passover feast.” Now it’s just gibberish. Another example from the Exsultet that trades drama for stodgy passivity: instead of “What good would life have been to us if Christ had not come as our Redeemer?” we now get this: “Our birth would have been no gain had we not been redeemed.” Ugh!

    1. @Eric Stoltz – comment #1:
      I agree very much, Eric.

      I’ve held from the outset that the Easter Proclamation is the most glaring howler of the entire failed VC2010 product.

  2. It seems generally thought that that devotion to more reverent and formal liturgy is greater among younger priests than among older ones. So it would be interesting to know how survey responses correlated with ages of the respondents. If negative reactions to the new translation correspond largely to “priests of the past”, while positive reactions correspond to “priests of the future”, then there may be nothing noteworthy here, just another example of expected correlation.

    1. @Henry Edwards – comment #2:
      I’m trying to get at your methodology. I think it must be this: “ignore the views of priests who don’t agree with Henry Edwards.” That would explain your claim that there is nothing noteworthy here.

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #3:

        You are being incredibly unfair in dismissing Henry’s point so quickly and callously, especially with no reasoning given to do so.

        Demographics help us to draw conclusions between and see trends among different subgroups within the polled group, as well as to determine if the data has been skewed in any way that the respondents may not conform to society as a whole. “Clergy” and “Laity” is an important distinction to have made, as is region (as was shown in the results) — but given the lack of homogeneity within the American presbyterate and pool of lay ministers, age and ordination (or degree conferral) are crucial to understanding the data.

        To say that “clergy” or “laity” react in a certain way is not helpful on its own. My suspicion is that Henry is on to something — I suspect that clergy and laity formed in the decade immediately after the Council are the group most dissatisfied, while the clergy and laity formed most recently are the group most satisfied. If the data fits my suspicion, I would agree with Henry that it is much less noteworthy than, for example, if the data showed the opposite.

        Was date of ordination (or of degree conferred) part of the data collected — and if not, why not?

      2. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #3:
        Since there seems to be a general divide between younger and older priests on liturgical issues, wouldn’t it be worth seeing if this disagreement tracks that divide and hence is just another manifestation of it, or whether it is something that priests in general are dissatisfied with? For one thing, it would tell us whether or not dissatisfaction/satisfaction with the missal belongs to a larger package of views concerning issues in the church today, or whether it is just an appraisal of the text.
        Personally, I suspect more older priests would be against it because of a very human reason: if you pray from the same missal for 20-30- years every day, internalize it, and then it’s changed overnight, you’re bound to be discombobulated by it. That probably sounds dismissive, but it’s how I would react if something like that happened to me.

      3. @Stanislaus Kosala – comment #8:
        I didn’t do the study, CARA did. I will ask them if they have the data on generational responses or not, and whether they have a sufficient representative sample to draw conclusions.

        The CARA study authors say that the “number of responses results in a margin of sampling error of ±4.2 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence interval,” but this is for all priests and lay leaders in the country. The margin of error is ±4.6 for just priests. I don’t know what data they have on generational differences.

        Thanks for asking.


      4. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #9:
        Thank you for agreeing to do that, i’m curious as to what the results will be.
        I have a qeustion for you: as a liturgist, would you agree that it would be fair to say that, at least as far as the U.S. is concerned, there has been an overall shift in liturgical formation from an approach that emphasizes a loosness concerning rubrics and the so-called “horizontal” dimension of worship to one that emphasizes strict adherence to rubrics and the so-called “veritcal” dimension?

        I’m asking because if the issue is phrased in this way then it isn’t simply a matter of older versus younger priests but a matter of different background assumptions concerning what constitutes good liturgy.

      5. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #3:
        Dear Anthony, I agree with your assessment of Henry’s comment, however I do think it would at least be interesting to see some analysis of responses by seniority. It is rather polarizing to think of “priests of the past” v. “priests of the future,” because in reality we are all priests of the present.

    2. @Henry Edwards – comment #2:

      Henry’s age distinction sets up a judgment that the findings are “just another example of expected correlation.”

      The data on changing opinions undercuts such a conclusion. 26% of priests changed with the introduction of the missal from either apprehension or looking forward to the new translation. Even if the looking forward/apprehension does not mirror the young/old divide, it is unlikely that the changed priests would reflect “an expected correlation.”

      And notice, even though 42% like the translation, 76% think the language is sometimes awkward and distracting. Almost half of those who approve do so despite recognizing the language is awkward!

      1. @Jim McKay – comment #18:

        And notice, even though 42% like the translation, 76% think the language is sometimes awkward and distracting. Almost half of those who approve do so despite recognizing the language is awkward!

        I think this points to the question being poorly phrased more than anything. It does not lend itself to an agree/strongly agree/disagree/strongly disagree distinction but rather a question of finding none/a little/much/most/all of the text awkward. As the question is worded, someone who admits there are a few whoppers but mostly likes the text (where I stand on the matter) would be grouped in together with those who feel most or nearly all of the text is awkward — and we could all “strongly agree” with the statement regardless of how much or little of the text we find to be awkward.

      2. @Matthew Morelli – comment #20:
        Not likely. CARA does a professional job, and it’s more likely that questions were carefully vetted before being employed.

        Many of the complaints about this survey seem to come from those who disagree with its findings. It’s another typical modernism, like the worship of youth: if you don’t like the message, and the source is out of reach, just attack the messenger.

        We now have a translation even more disliked than MR1. Good job, CDWDS, ICEL, Vox Clara, and Liturgiam Authenticam. Score a big one for church unity, eh?

  3. Matthew, it might be interesting to understand how different generations of clergy react to the new translation in different ways. That is a matter of fact. But how do you interpret this fact?

    My own negative reactions to Henry’s comment were that (1) he quickly dismissed the “older” priests as “priests of the past”; (2) he airily concluded that if older priests didn’t like the new translation but younger ones did, there was “nothing noteworthy here”.

    Suppose that the actual result were opposite to what you and Henry seem to be predicting: that the older priests liked the new translation, the younger ones didn’t. You could spin this as follows: the senior, more experienced and presumably wiser priests knew what they were doing, the younger and less trained ones didn’t.

    I personally value Henry’s contributions here. It is good to see a thoughtful “trad” engaging with the debate, and generally refraining from sarcasm and self-evident truths. But given that Henry rubbishes Pray Tell and its contributors in his comments on other websites, it’s easy enough to conclude that he brings a strong agenda to the debate. So I understand Anthony’s swift and strong reaction to his comment.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #5:

      Matthew, it might be interesting to understand how different generations of clergy react to the new translation in different ways. That is a matter of fact. But how do you interpret this fact?

      How I interpret it would matter largely on what the data is saying — but I think Stanislaus reaches a realistic understanding of how it (probably) would play out: opinions as a manifestation of larger liturgical/theological/ecclesiological differences and inertia on the part of priests who had been using the older translation for 20 or 30 years or more.

      The more important point is this: knowing the internals helps to reduce other biases in the data — the distinction between clergy and lay is a good one, as is geographic region. However, knowing that such a difference does often exist between clergy of different generations, omitting an age/year of ordination is a severe oversight with implications on the general conclusions of the data — and this has nothing to do with whether one agrees with any particular generation of clergy (whatever the correlation is).

      In any case, I would far rather see the rest of the internals (and the entirety of the questionnaire for that matter) before beginning to draw any conclusions, especially those that could lead to changing the direction of revising the Missal (that I am mostly satisfied with) or other liturgical books.

  4. Numbers underneath and/or behind the numbers are always helpful – not just breakdowns by age, but perhaps by geographic region and/or (in the case of clergy) geographic region where seminary study/formation took place.
    I fear that in this kind of age breakdown, however, we do run the risk of caving in to the value of the surrounding culture that only youth is good. While I fully understand the importance of young people to the future of the Church, to value the viewpoint (or dismiss it) on the basis of age (or economic bracket, or any of the other categories prized by advertisers, marketers, and such) is inconsistent with a Gospel that hopefully leads us to value ALL God’s children.

  5. This is an enlightening study, but I’m wondering about the wording “formal style of language.” Rhetorically speaking, the old translation wasn’t exactly informal; the new one is more formal in that it uses more complex sentence structures and vocabulary. But that isn’t really the issue, is it?

    1. Doug, a similar question can be raised in regard to Henry’s assertion that the more complex syntax of MR3 is more “reverent” than its predecessor.

  6. ” So it would be interesting to know how survey responses correlated with ages of the respondents. If negative reactions to the new translation correspond largely to “priests of the past”, while positive reactions correspond to “priests of the future”, then there may be nothing noteworthy here, just another example of expected correlation.

    On the other hand one might say that it would be interesting to know how survey responses correlated with ages of the respondents. If negative reactions correspond largely to “inexperienced priests”, while positive reactions correspond to “wise, experienced priests”, then there may be nothing noteworthy here.

    Or one might say that it would also be interesting to see how it correlates with ethnic group. If negative reactions correspond largely to priests with a hispanic background, that is, priests who have not been educated to see the beauty of formal English, then there may be nothing noteworthy here, just another example of expected correlation.

    In other words, as economists say, if you torture the data long enough, it will confess to whatever you want it to say.

    Or maybe the easiest would be to say that the church is not a democracy, so not every one’s opinion counts in the same way, so it makes no sense to tally numbers and statistics as though the majority opinion was relevant.

  7. Was there any consideration to having this study done by telephone? Mail surveys tend to have low response rates and are more likely to suffer from selection bias. I suppose money would have been the main issue. I haven’t worked with any randomized email survey, but I can’t imagine they would be any different then mail.

  8. #2 – – Sorry, this is your typical *dog whistle* claim. It follows along with the meme about religious groups that are *conservative* having increased vocations.
    Once you look at the nuances and drill down, you realize that the data just doesn’t support the claim. Example – a very small percentage of very conservative groups have seen an increase in initial vocations; BUT, track those vocations and ask five years later how many made it to final vows and you see that there is no significant difference between conservative and progressive.
    Same goes for the claim about younger vs. older – depending upon how you ask questions; make distinctions, etc. there is no one size fits all for older or younger priests.
    Mr. Henry starts by making an *assumption* that he has not proved – he jumps to the conclusion that younger priests like the new missal translation – or, at least, he suggests that by the way he comments.
    My guess is that the meme about younger priests being more conservative only works in some areas – for example, one could make Henry’s assumption if you are talking about priests in Lincoln, NE but doubt that it holds true when you poll younger priests in LA or NYC or Chicago. Would suggest that the assumption about conservative younger priests pertains to a small percentage of seminaries/dioceses (and in some cases the priest products have not changed much from one decade to another e.g. Detroit, Dallas, Denver)

  9. “When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not.” Yoda in Return of the Jedi

    While I completely agree that vernacular translations need to be accurate, they also need to be in the vernacular. To me, that means more than merely using English (or other language) words. The translation has to consider current usage, and for me that is the basic flaw of the current translation and why it is so awkward.

    I would be willing to listen to someone explain why the current translation is preferable. I read comments that proclaim its beauty, but do not recall an actual explanation.

    The current translation seems to me to be very awkward – and not so much for the congregation: all the prayers and response that changed for them exist in their entirety on a single card in the pew. Priests have a much more difficult time with the translation, so it’s no surprise that more priests dislike it than lay leaders.

    If it can’t be universally changed fairly quickly it would be nice to at least have a couple of alternatives as approved options.

  10. When survey results support your point of view, wave them all around. “Research shows… experts agree… evidence supports!” When survey results refute your point of view, simply say, “wording was biased… sample size was small… respondents were self-selecting… they should have asked more questions…” As they say in the newspaper business, the story here practically writes itself.

  11. I am younger than Fr. Allan McDonald. He loves the “glorious” new translation while I find it wanting in many ways.

  12. The distinction that I find myself wondering about is not the breakdown of clergy respondents by age group or generation, but the opinions of clergy as compared with the opinions of those in religious life and those of ordinary (non-religious) laypeople. Sadly, from the methodology, this was not apparently a concern of those who conducted the study: “The invitation to participate in the survey was directed to the pastor or other parish leader in each parish.” This presumes that the only opinion worth measuring is that of the parish priest or (presumably in the absence of a priest) the person functioning in a pastoral role.

    Thus, 85% of the respondents were clergy and the religious were lumped in with ordinary laypeople making it (a) impossible to separate those two groups out at all and (b) difficult if not impossible to say much in terms of comparisons between clergy and non-clergy groups because of the small sample size of latter’s responses (they note a +/- 11.3% margin of error for this group!).

    To me, this is a major missed opportunity. It suggests that the researchers (either those who commissioned it, those who carried it out, or both) did not sufficiently value the opinions of non-clergy.

    Don’t get me wrong — I think it is good to have a sense of what priests think about the new translation. But I also believe that this is but a small glimpse into what the church more broadly thinks about the new translation, and I would love to see a followup study that seeks to solicit the impressions of the laypeople.

  13. One of the real problems about the ‘new/present’ translation is that it is/was finally edited by people who do (or did) not intend to use it, preferring rather to use another language themselves. Also the book itself is a ‘translation choice’ forming ritual via lay-out and other editorial niceties which make it a difficult book to use smoothly and easily. For example, why place the variant ‘sample invocations for the penitential rite’ in an appendix #6 at the back of the book? And there are numerous other instances, for example, the editorial arrangements around the Our Father and the rest of the Communion Rite. The only explanation (despite what the ‘official statements’ say,) is that the book is editorially arranged to be difficult to use, and works counter to a desirable ‘ars celebrandi’ as demanded after Vatican II. And pace Fr. Ruff, why is there all sorts of prevision and provision for ‘chant’ for parts of the Ordinary which had no such indications in any previous Missal or Sacramentary? This too is ‘editorial translation choices’ affecting the ritual by persons who are not planning to use it — certainly not in ordinary parishes.

    1. @Philip Sandstrom – comment #26:

      One of the real problems about the ‘new/present’ translation is that it is/was finally edited by people who do (or did) not intend to use it, preferring rather to use another language themselves.

      Just wanted to highlight this very perceptive statement in case it got lost in all the other stuff.

  14. As a layman, I prefer this so called new translation. I grew up and served Mass in the 50’s and early 60’s. In my humble opinion, there was more reverence and more people attended Mass in those days. I would recommend that we stop changing something that works for most of us.

  15. It would be interesting if the survey had also asked respondents whether they accept the Magisterium of the Church on such matters as (1) the teaching of Humanae Vitae, (2) the indissolubility of marriage and the impossibility of admitting to communion those living in another relationship, (3) the withholding of communion from politicians who notoriously and scandalously dissent from Catholic teaching, and (4) the universal permissibility of celebrating the Extraordinary Form by all priests and the right of the laity to receive nourishment from this form of the Mass.

    My guess is that, while not showing a perfect overlap, the results would often correlate rather significantly.

    1. @Peter Kwasniewski – comment #28:
      But we need the data to know whether Peter’s rough guess is true or not. I’m sure it’s all a complicated mess and there is all kinds of overlap and non-overlap in unexpected ways.

      Meanwhile, since we don’t know what all those priests who dislike the new missal think about the 4 issues Peter names, it’s probably best not to guess, and certainly not to dismiss their views on the missal based on this alleged but unproven connection to other dissent.

      And note that there is at least some variety of opinion on nos. 2-4 of Peter’s issues even among bishops and cardinals – this is public record. Today’s Tablet,, for example, reports this: “The bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has told Catholic parliamentarians that they will not be refused Communion if they voted in favour of same-sex marriage.”


  16. Peter, are you proposing that any cleric who doesn’t like the new translation is likely to be what some bloggers would term “a Catholic in name only?” Would you like to say more about the causal relationship implied here?

  17. While I’m not at all questioning CARA’s methodology or professionalism, the 10% response rate does seem exceedingly low to draw meaningful conclusions. The results are certainly interesting, and its the only quantified data we have at this time, so its better than nothing. But its another matter to extrapolate that these statistics are representative of the entire US Church, as the underlying assumption (the 10% responding represented an truly random sample) is not verifiable.

    1. @Richard Embser – comment #31:
      I think CARA answers this in their analysis: There is 95% certainty that this is within 4.2 percentage points of the views of all US priests.


      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #32:
        Hi Fr. Ruff,

        The 95% confidence intervals are actually based on that same assumption that the 10% of respondents represent a purely random sample of US priests. The 4.2% only accounts for the margin of error due to sampling; it does not account for the possibility of selection bias, which I don’t think is quantifiable in this situation. That is not to say there is a bias either way, but it is a real limitation of this kind of survey, and becomes a greater issue with lower response rates.

  18. Is “reject” the right verb? “Reject” seems to imply that a majority of the clergy are in open rebellion, refusing to use the new translation. That hasn’t been my observation.

    Perhaps it would be more accurate, although admittedly less sensational, to report, in line with the survey question that apparently prompted the headline, that a majority of clergy (or, better, priests) *dislike* the new translation. My observation has been that many priests dislike yet still use (that is to say, that, however reluctantly, they *accept*) the new translation, even if in a spirit of, “I don’t like it, but I’ve been told to use it, so I will”.

    It may be that the reality I’m describing, the spirit of, ‘This is too hard, I’m trying to make it work, but it’s a losing battle’, strengthens the moral case for revising the existing translation. Priests can tell their bishops, “Look – we’ve been good, loyal soldiers. You asked us to make this thing work, and we’ve worked hard to make it work. We’ve shielded a lot of gripes and complaints from you. But it’s been a couple of years now, and you know what? It’s just not working. We’ve done our part. Now you do your part: fix it.”

  19. Jim – you raise good points. I am changing the headline to “dislike” rather than “reject,” for all the reasons you give. Thanks for the helpful input.

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